1.  The proposed regional project is a response to several individual requests from African governments, regional institutions, and universities. It is motivated by the rise in demand of specialized human capital within rapidly growing development sectors, such as the extractive industries, energy, water, environment, infrastructure, and in service sectors, such as hospitality, banking, and ICT. This is a very positive development that drives up return to education and give opportunities for higher incomes. However, the African economies need to meet this unmet demand for highly skilled technicians, engineers, medical professionals, agricultural scientists and researchers, particularly in fast growing economies, in order to reap the high returns. Further, Africa trails other parts of the world in higher education and research. This is a medium term constraint for increased productivity and technology absorption, and for developing new competitive economic sectors that over time can diversify the African economies.

2.  The extractive industry is one of several examples, where almost all skilled positions (engineers, geologists, topologists etc) are currently filled by expatriates, and where governments sorely lack supervisory expertise. The energy sector is also experiencing sustained demand for specialized engineers in the fields of hydropower, renewable energy and related fields. Another example is the lack of specialized health workers in critical areas like Maternal and Child Health – MDG4&5, or in treatment of infectious diseases. The lack of specialized human capital also pertains to the agricultural sector, where crop and animal scientists, as well as veterinarians, agronomists and biotechnologists within post farm areas of expertise have become a bottleneck in transforming agriculture in Africa.

3.  Current higher education systems in Africa lack the capacity to respond to these immediate skills needs. The reasons are routed in the weak state of the under-developed tertiary education systems in Africa which expanded rapidly over the last two decades without matching increased funding and reforms in curricula, governance and management. Lack of a critical mass of quality faculty and excellence, insufficient sustainable financing, inappropriate governance and leadership, disconnect with the demands of the economy, inefficient and inadequate regional specialization and integration are key factors limiting capacity to respond to meet these skills needs. A number of countries have made important policy and funding changes to overcome these barriers, and in a few countries higher education has expanded significantly, such as Mauritius and Kenya, and flagship institutions are gradually emerging.

4.  With the progress in basic education and strong economic growth, strategic investments in quality higher education to address critical skills shortages is needed in order to sustain this growth. Given resource limitations, investment in select universities to generate high quality professionals with higher order skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and establish a minimum research capacity, especially within life sciences, hard sciences, engineering and technology is inevitable.

5.  A regional approach to higher education in Africa offers a cost effective approach to build responsiveness and excellence in higher education in Africa in priority areas such as Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Agriculture and Health Sciences. It would encourage regional specialization, concentrate the limited top-level faculty, generate knowledge spill-over, and be cost-efficient by leveraging economies of scale. This is not easily attainable at the country wide level, especially as quality universities require expensive equipment and facilities, as well as a critical mass of high-quality faculty. Few if any African countries will have the persistent means to fund centers of excellence. Regional collaboration and division of labor/investments can enable groups of African countries to financially sustain quality universities in the range of specific disciplines required for their development. Without coordinated regional specialization-for example if each countries were to invest in an uncoordinated manner-the region risks investing very scarce resources for higher education within the same areas, fighting for the same faculty and producing similar knowledge. This would lead to overlap and more importantly, leave the region with a number of skill, knowledge and technology gaps. Regional centers of excellence would have a specific mandate to educate regionally, share knowledge, education know-how, and access to expensive learning resources regionally. The value of regional collaboration in higher education has long term been recognized in Africa particularly at the Bachelor (first degree levels), but the experienced has been mixed. A renewed regional approach will therefore have to take these lessons into account.


 

Last Updated on April 28, 2014 by admin

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